Before Virtue

Before Virtue

Jonathan J. Sanford
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Before Virtue
    Book Description:

    Jonathan Sanford finds that despite the common origins of contemporary virtue ethics in Anscombe, the literature varies widely not just in its scope but in its basic commitments. What exactly is contemporary virtue ethics? In Before Virtue, Sanford develops strategies for describing contemporary virtue ethics accurately. He then assesses contemporary virtue approaches by the Anscombean dual standard which inspired them: the degree to which they avoid the pitfalls of modern moral philosophy and the extent to which they exemplify a successful recovery of an Aristotelian approach to ethics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2740-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-20)

    A good case can be made that the most exciting work done in moral philosophy over the last fifty years is that set of inquiries collected under the title of “contemporary virtue ethics.” In its infancy it was not always clear that this would be so, and indeed, it used to be the case that the proponents of contemporary virtue ethics could rightfully complain that they did not receive the respect they deserved. But this has changed. Current handbooks on moral philosophy include significant entries on virtue ethics, there has been a proliferation of articles and books on it, and...

    (pp. 21-50)

    Before a critical appraisal of any philosophical system can be provided, one needs to have made sense of the system. The more familiar work involved in that process is a set of inquiries with the goal in mind of providing a detailed examination of the main features internal to the system. Less familiar, but no less important, is the work of understanding that system’s situational features with respect to the history of investigations concerning the questions that the system is meant to answer and the status of that system relative to competing explanations. No one working in the field of...

    (pp. 51-80)

    We need to understand more clearly what contemporary virtue ethics is, and this entails a more detailed focus on its relatively short history. Even a movement with a short history, however, cannot incorporate every detail of its development, and so one’s historical focus must be selective. Of what are the following two chapters a selective history?

    Julia Annas points out that virtue ethics has long been the default position of ethical theorists, with the notable exception of the modern moral theorists.¹ Because of the dominance of modern moral philosophy, those approaches inspired by Hume, Kant, and Mill, and the significant...

  7. Chapter 3 All Anscombe’s Children? The Varieties of Contemporary Virtue Ethics
    (pp. 81-113)

    In pursuit of a clearer understanding of contemporary virtue ethics we have now considered the movement’s place within contemporary moral philosophy as well as some features of Anscombe’s essay that supply the motivation for its development. Some of the distinctive features of the movement have been touched on already, but a much more thorough consideration of those features is now called for. Therefore, we return again to the task of determining just what contemporary virtue ethics is, but now with an explicit focus on those features intrinsic to the movement itself.

    There have been many attempts to describe just what...

    (pp. 114-142)

    The differences between the variety of approaches to virtue theory and the virtues represented in contemporary virtue ethics and canvassed in the last chapter are, in many cases, deep and significant. These differences reveal, at least in some cases, competing sets of primary tasks for moral philosophy, competing strategies for addressing those primary tasks, and competing allegiances to core principles. There remains, however, at least some historical reason for regarding these competing approaches within the contemporary virtue ethics movement as unified insofar as they all take inspiration from Anscombe’s watershed article. Even though some shapes taken by that inspiration are...

    (pp. 143-182)

    To what extent are the significant shortcomings with respect to a substantive moral theory within the mainstream virtue ethical movement attributable to shortcomings within Aristotle’s ethics? If the mainstream variety of virtue ethics includes a genuine retrieval of Aristotelian ethics, then it would seem to be the case that these shortcomings are, at least in part, due to Aristotelian ethics. If it does not, then Aristotle’s ethics, at least taken in their fullness, are not responsible for those difficulties, and the possibility is at least left open that a more thoroughgoing revival of Aristotelian ethics might still be made in...

  10. Chapter 6 Anthropology in Aristotelian Ethics: Every Virtue Needs a Home
    (pp. 183-204)

    A significant turning point in this book’s argumentation has been reached. Evidence has been produced in order to show that the movement to which Anscombe’s watershed piece, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” gave life has in many respects betrayed the recommendations of its mother. Instead of the cessation of ethics-as-usual until a comprehensive and coherent philosophical psychology has been produced,¹ we have seen the proliferation of rule-based ethics both in what has come to be called virtue ethics and in the other fields of modern moral philosophy. After the initial period of virtue ethical writings, which spent a great deal of time...

  11. Chapter 7 Teleology in Aristotelian Ethics: Every Virtue Needs a Goal
    (pp. 205-226)

    Whether talking about a part of a substance, or a substance as a whole, grasping a thing’stelosproves essential to making sense of what sort of thing it is. This insight is employed to explain how each virtue is a perfection of some power or some coordination of powers and passions of a person, and contributes to the character of the whole person. Whatever the field of inquiry, Aristotle’s principle that we can know a thing only by knowing what it is for is heuristically primary. This formula implies, among other things, that the formal cause (or explanation) of...

  12. Chapter 8 Natural Law in Aristotelian Ethics: Every Virtuous Action Needs Its Reason
    (pp. 227-254)

    Making sense of the virtue of practical wisdom requires a fairly robust account of the foundations of moral principles. Making sense of the role and scope of the natural law in moral philosophy requires a robust account of the virtues. Virtue theorists on the one hand and natural law theorists on the other would seem to stand in need of each other’s support. They are two branches sharing the same Aristotelian trunk, share a connatural friendship, and would seem to have everything to gain by uniting. And in point of fact, one certainly finds both branches intertwining in Aquinas’s virtue-laced...

    (pp. 255-258)

    The aim of this book has been to appraise the contemporary virtue ethics movement, and ultimately to measure it against the rich tradition of Aristotelian ethics. The movement has been discovered to be multifaceted and complex, far more complex than many of its descriptions suggest. In taking a historical approach to making sense of contemporary virtue ethics, I have given a great deal of attention to its literature. The point of this attention has been not simply to provide a review of that literature, but to consider its content from the perspective of its supplying the best available evidence for...

    (pp. 259-274)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 275-280)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 281-281)